Uncommon Passion, Uncommon Results – Patrick Kennedy

Wrestlers are some of the most passionate athletes on Earth. So much work goes into just being an average wrestler that it is almost impossible for a wrestler to have that passion. To become an elite wrestler, most ratchet that passion up to another level. Then you have Kasson-Mantorville’s Patrick Kennedy. Even for an elite wrestler, the four-time state champion has an uncommon passion for wrestling.

“I wrote a goal on October 8th, 2017, on a piece of paper that is on the wall that I am going to be an Olympic champion,” Kennedy said. “I am not going to do anything that I can control with my effort that would jeopardize anything that would make me not become an Olympic champion. I have become obsessed with it. (The goal) is on my phone. I write it on my assignments at school, I just want the end goal, and I am prepared to do a lot for it.”

Kennedy’s passion didn’t come from a long line of Kennedy wrestlers.

“My dad was the first person in my family to wrestle,” Kennedy explained. “My grandpa and uncle played basketball.”

Despite his lack of wrestling genes, Kennedy started early, and as soon as his family moved, his wrestling career took off.

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Putting Your Toe On The Line – Maple River

The program was a consistent winner before Dan Robbins became the head coach of the Maple River wrestling program. When Robbins took the head job before the 2013 season, he kept the program rolling. They have only had one losing season since Robbins took over. In the last two seasons, the program has won a total of 37 dual meets. How have the Eagles done it? They have done it by being ready to go the second they put their toe on the line.

Robbins was raised in a wrestling hotbed and was exposed to the sport by a young man placed in charge of the future coach.

“I grew up in Blue Earth, and we had a good wrestling following,” Robbins said. “I had a babysitter who was a wrestler, and he got me into it when I was five or six years old. We went to the same church also; he would talk to me about it. When he was baby-sitting, sometimes he would show me a double leg or a stand-up or something. I kept going from there.”

With the help of his babysitter, Robbins started in on a life-long career in wrestling.

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Crossing Rivalry Lines – Lakeville South

Since Lakeville High School split into two schools in 2005, Lakeville North and Lakeville South have been natural rivals. With kids growing up together and training in the same youth programs, the two wrestling teams add to the community rivalry. In 1997, Paul Donner started working with Lakeville wrestling. Over the years, he held coaching jobs at both Lakeville North and South. Eventually, Donner took the head job at North. He was the Lakeville North head coach up until four years ago when he decided to retire from coaching. Two years later, Donner was asked to come back – as the head coach at Lakeville South.

“I didn’t know how the kids would react,” Donner admitted. “When you have such a rivalry between two schools, you can’t even imagine putting a shirt on of the other school.”

Long before he switched school districts, Donner grew up in Clarkfield, Minnesota. He had success in wrestling right away.

“I started wrestling in fourth grade,” Donner said. “Canby was the team down there at the time. If you beat a Canby kid, you knew you were pretty good. I ended up winning Nationals in fifth grade when it was AAU.”

Wrestling wasn’t a foregone conclusion for a young Donner.

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Keep Grinding – Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa

When Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa head wrestling coach Jack Mueller took over the Jaguars’ wrestling program, he brought with him the career of a wrestling grinder. From his days fighting for varsity time in high school to his time at multiple assistant coaching stops, Mueller brought a grinder mentality to the BBE program. Now, the Jaguars are in the midst of one of their best seasons in program history – grinding away wins.

Mueller grew up in the wrestling hotbed of Paynesville.

“As I was coming up through the ranks, I got to watch some pretty good teams and individuals run through that program,” Mueller said. “I was around for the tail end of their good run. When they won the state title in 2000, I was a seventh-grader. Just watching that was a big influence. My dad’s side of the family was a big Paynesville wrestling family. On my mom’s side, it was the same thing – they were both big Paynesville wrestling families.”

Despite his family’s history – Mueller didn’t start wrestling as soon as most in the area.

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Giving Back and Giving Confidence… For Over Forty Years – St. Paul Central Wrestling

The St. Paul Central Minutemen wrestling team has not always had success in the win column. Off the mat, head coach Wardell Warren has had successes that have gone well beyond his over 400 career victories. Brought up in the program, Warren wanted to give back to what gave him so much early in his life. He has done so by giving his wrestlers something more valuable than wins on the mat. He has given the hundreds of kids that have come through his program confidence.

Warren was exposed to wrestling almost by accident.

“In 9th grade, I was leaving the school, and I heard noise in the gymnasium. I stopped to look. The junior high was wrestling someone, and I watched it. I went home and I thought ‘I can do that.’ The next day I told the coach that I was going to join. I wrestled at 145 – up a weight – the first week, and I got beat. I thought ‘I am a 138 pounder’ and the next week I beat out the wrestler who had been at 138 and won my next seven matches at 138.”

Although he didn’t know anything about wrestling, Warren liked what he saw that first day.

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No Going Back – Orono Wrestling

When Orono wrestling coach Joe McPherson first joined the Spartans’ staff, the program was struggling. A few years later, when he walked into the Orono wrestling room for the first time as the head wrestling coach, things had gotten even worse.

“When I came on as a volunteer assistant, we had 18-20 kids in the room,” McPherson said. “The next year, we had 10-15 kids. When I took over as the head coach, we only had six kids - 7th-12th grade – in the room.”

Ten years later, they have 36 kids in the room and are coming off a 17-win season and their second straight section finals appearance. Gone are the days of six wrestlers in the room. For the Spartans’ wrestling program, there is no going back.

McPherson started his athletic career early.

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Making The Jump – Sartell-St. Stephen Wrestling

When Sartell-St. Stephen head wrestling coach Cody Olson took over the job before the 2009-10 season, the program was struggling.

“The program was down,” Olson recalled. “They were talking about a possible co-op. The numbers were down – I think they had about 20 guys – 7th to 12th grade – in the room. They were having trouble filling the lineup.”

Four years later, Sartell made a big jump. Not only did they have a full line up, but they were also pushing the best teams in the area.

“My third year we sent three kids to State,” Olson said. “We were close to .500 that year and were in a lot of close duals. The fourth-year we won the conference – which was the first time since the 1970s.”

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A Great Place To Be – Adrian Wrestling

The Adrian wrestling program has a history most teams would be envious of. They were led for years by one of the icons of Minnesota high school wrestling. They have had success at the Class AA and Class A levels. The Dragons have had extended stretches of state tournament appearances and section finals appearances. Adrian wrestling was a good place to be. In the last few years, the program has fallen considerably short of its storied history.

Now, the program is starting to work its way back. Just a few years ago, they could not fill a varsity lineup. But in the last two seasons, the numbers have improved and so have the results. Head coach Gregg Nelson knows it is going to take a lot of hard work by a lot of people to get back to where the Dragons’ were ten years ago. However, they are moving in the right direction, and Adrian wrestling is again a great place to be.

Nelson’s wrestling career started in one of the best programs in the state.

“I grew up on a dairy farm near Owatonna, and I am the youngest. All my older brothers wrestled,” Nelson said. “It was just kind of expected. I did a little bit of youth wrestling – nothing like they do nowadays. I got into the (wrestling) program more in junior high.”

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